Friday, 10 November 2017 13:17

James Dyson award winner puts serious skin in the game: sKan for melanoma


A new low-cost, hand-held device called sKan uses heat detection to help physicians quickly identify skin cancer and has won the international James Dyson Award

In Australia, we're told that "more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, and two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70".

"When diagnosed and treated early, melanoma is usually curable, but the disease still claims tens of thousands of lives every year. In Australia alone, an estimated 1839 lives are lost to melanoma, annually.

Shockingly, that’s approximately five deaths every day.

So, with early diagnostic methods relying heavily on visual inspections, there's a big problem: these are sometimes inaccurate.

There are more advanced methods, but they're time consuming and expensive, adding "avoidable strain to already over-burdened health services."

In Australia, the stats are that "the incidence of treatments for basal and squamous cell carcinomas is more than five times the incidence of all other cancers combined."

Medicare records are there to back things up, showing "there were over 900,000 treatments for squamous and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers in 2016 – which is more than 2,500 skin cancer treatments every day. Those who do not go through biopsy procedures run the risk of missed detection".

This is where innovative thinking came into play, with four engineering undergraduates at McMaster University, Canada, having set out to tackle the problem of melanoma diagnosis.

Their solution, called "the sKan," is a "cheaper, easy to use diagnostic system that could save lives through early detection, while also saving health services valuable time and money."

As the successful, international winners of the James Dyson Award, the team will be given approximately A$50,000 to develop their idea.

So, how does the sKan work?

We're told that "cancerous cells have a higher metabolic rate than normal cells. As such, they release more heat".

"This means that after a thermal shock is applied (for example, via an ice pack), the cancerous tissue will regain heat more quickly than the non-cancerous tissue, indicating a strong likelihood of melanoma.

"The sKan incorporates an array of thermistors – highly accurate and inexpensive temperature sensors. This array is placed on the region of interest, and tracks its return to ambient temperature after being cooled.

"The thermistor readings are digitised, whereupon time synchronous averaging, temperature variation detection and spatial validation are conducted on the signal. The results are displayed as a heat map and temperature difference time plot, together with a statement of findings – showing the presence, or lack of presence, of melanoma.

"While non-invasive, thermal imaging techniques for melanoma diagnosis exist, these are expensive as they use high resolution thermal imaging cameras, which cost upwards of $34,000. The anticipated cost of the sKan is less than $1000."

James Dyson said: “By using widely available and inexpensive components, the sKan could allow for melanoma skin cancer detection to be readily accessible to the many. It’s a very clever device with the potential to save lives around the world. This is why I have selected it at this years international winner”.

Dr. Raimond Wong, chairman of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Site Group at the Juravinski Cancer Centre said: “Current methods of detecting wether a lesion is melanoma or not is through the trained eyes of physicians – resulting in patients undergoing unnecessary surgery or late detection of melanoma. The sKan has the potential to be a low cost, easy to use and effective device, that can be afforded and adopted across health services."

The sKan team said: “Winning the James Dyson Award means the world to us. The prize money will help us to continue developing a medical device that can saves people’s lives. We are truly humbled and excited to be given this remarkable opportunity”.

Thankfully, the team have "big ambitions for their device who plan to use the prize money to continue reiterating and refining the product to a level where it will receive FDA approval. From here, they hope to see the device being used across medical practices worldwide".

Here's more on how the technology works:

  • The sKan team’s design consists of a transducer, a conditioning circuit, an analog to digital converter and a software processor.The transducer is an array of thermistors placed on the region of interest as it returns to ambient temperature after being cooled.
  • As the temperatures of each thermistor varies, the voltage through the circuit changes, sending a signal through a specific conditioning circuit to filter and amplify the signal before becoming digitized by a microcontroller.
  • The signal is then sent to a computer through a serial connection to be formatted and fitted to thermistor parametric curves. The results are displayed through a heat map and a temperature time plot, paired with a statement of the findings. The analysis reports the location and range of temperature differences on a temporal metric.

Global melanoma statistics: 

Australian melanoma statistics:

International runners-up:

Atropos, Gabriele Natale, Design & Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Problem: Current high-performance 3D printing tools waste large amounts of material.

Solution: Atropos is a 6-axis robotic arm, able to print 3D objects, by starting from a CAD file. Atropos uses continuous fiber composites material, to produce high-performance objects. Fibers are saturated, while a numerically-controlled machine is able to deposit them in a precise and repeatable way.

Twistlight, Tina Zimmer, Product Design, Gestaltung Köln, Germany

Problem: Although vein-puncture is the most common medical procedure in the world, 33% of vein-puncture attempts fail at the first attempt. The risk of an infection and complication increases with every further attempt. Every abortive attempt prolongates the therapy and increases the cost, along with the pain and stress levels of both patient and medical staff.

Solution: Twistlight uses LED lights in a diagnostically relevant way to guide it clearly into the tissue. It makes veins appear highly contrasted within its surrounding dermal tissue. The device can be used single handed, therefore the other hand can be used to undo the vein strap, tension the skin and fix the catheter in place when pulling out the steel stylet. The device incorporates an integrated catheter feed and catheter guidance. The device is battery-powered and therefore can be used in hospitals, offices and out in the field, with the emergency services.

The James Dyson Award

The James Dyson Award runs in 23 countries. The contest is open to university level students (and recent graduates) studying product design, industrial design and engineering.

The award encourages ideas that challenge convention, lean engineering – less is more, and design with the environment in mind. The best inventions are simple and practical yet provide a solution to a real world problem. A national winner is selected for every country the award runs in, before going through to the final phase where the international winner is chosen by James Dyson.

The award is run by the James Dyson Foundation, a registered charity set up in 2002 which exists to inspire and support the next generation of engineers.

What is the prize?

International Winner:

  • The international prize is approximately AUD$50,000 for the student and approximately AUD$8,000 for the student’s university department.

Up to two International Runners-up:

  • Approximately A$8000 each

National Winners

  • Approximately A$3000 each 

The submissions for the 2017 James Dyson Award can be seen here

Who can enter the James Dyson Award?

Any university level student of product design, industrial design or engineering, or graduate within four years of graduation, who is studying or studied in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK and the USA.

For more information and regular updates on the progress of the James Dyson Award, follow the James Dyson Foundation on Facebook and Twitter. Entries can be made by visiting the James Dyson Award website here.

Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology

  • The first cohort of Dyson Undergraduate Engineers will arrive on the Dyson campus in September 2017 to begin four years of employment and study with the Dyson Institute. This is Dyson’s first step to attaining degree-awarding powers and university status.
  • More than a degree, more than a university: undergraduate engineers will gain hands-on experience from day one as part of the Global Engineering team and academic rigour through their degree course.
  • 33% of the offer holders are female compared to 16% of all UK engineering students and 9% of all UK engineers.
  • James Dyson said, “The UK’s skills shortage is holding Dyson back as we look to increase the amount of technology we develop and export from the UK. We are taking matters into our own hands. The new degree course offers academic theory, a real-world job and salary, and access to experts in their field.”

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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